Future Fit

with Sam McDonagh - Airbnb, Country Manager Aus & NZ


The grand era of travel refers to the era from the ‘20s to the ‘50s. It seems archaic today. Digitalisation has not caused an evolution as much as a transformation. And ironically, a resurgence of one characteristic feature, that of staying in other people’s homes. Airbnb has turned that into an industry in itself.

Sam McDonagh is country manager for Airbnb Australia & New Zealand. Airbnb has never stopped finding new places in travel to colonise.

“How will we pay our rent?”

Airbnb began with modest ambitions that gave no hint of the industry-changing phenomenon the company would become. Two young bloggers, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, noticed that a local conference had filled all the hotel rooms in San Francisco. They needed money and figured they could rent B&B space in their home to pay the rent. They bought a few airbeds and AirBed and Breakfast was born. For the first six months, the only way you could share your home on Airbnb was with an airbed.

“But the founders really thought they were on to something, because of the personal connections that were being made. Within four years, Airbnb had hosted 1 million guests. Then, from 2012, we opened a number of offices all around the world. From 2012 to 2014, that million guests grew to 20 million, and from 2014 to 2018, where we are today, 400 million people experienced Airbnb,” McDonagh notes.


“The magic was, is, and always will be the people.”

“The 20x growth that we saw from 2012 to 2014 was really about the people and the personalisation of the stay,” McDonagh recounts. “Even though you may never meet the host, you're interacting with them, and that was a really important part of the growth of Airbnb. Plus, in 2014, we were able to tell the brand story, and that really sparked the next innovation and a period of growth on Airbnb. One of the things that ties Airbnb together is our vision, and that is a world where people can belong anywhere.”

When new, now, wow is no longer.

Airbnb had moved into the travel industry and built a new space there for itself. It was a wildly new option to which people were drawn. Now it’s an established part of travel. Now it has to compete as such. Now it has to find new ways to grow.

“One of the important things that we're going to be faced with in the coming years is sustaining our growth as we continue to provide a world where people can belong anywhere,” McDonagh states. “One of the things we’ve had to look at is how to move beyond the home. So, at the end of 2016 we launched Experiences, which is a really important step in Airbnb's short but storied history. Now, we need to continue to think about what other businesses can exist on the Airbnb platform.”

Being Future Fit.

“What does Airbnb need now to be future fit? We need to lead authentically and with passion about where our business can go,” McDonagh notes. “And I think being accountable for the things you say and do is also very important. Finally, being good at what you do and becoming a specialist is coming to the fore.” As Airbnb grows into new categories, McDonagh explains, being a generalist will become less important. “There will be great opportunities for people to join Airbnb at different level as specialists,” he states, “and the general practitioners that thrive will be those who can lead and bring together a number of specialist skillsets.”


“In 2018, we announced a prospectus on the future of Airbnb,” McDonagh explains. “It contains a number of innovations like evolving and investing in our Superguest, and especially Superhost, programs. For us to continue to evolve, we also need to pay attention to the end-to-end trip. We believe the home only plays a very small part in that. That’s where Airbnb Experiences and Airbnb for Work came from. We continue to work on those.”


Get there first. Find a better way.


“We know that there are existing players in the market today that are still doing the same thing that they did 20 or 30 years ago,” McDonagh comments. “Most have had to adapt, but at the same time, Airbnb's been able to come in and, using the technological landscape that we're operating in, been able to adapt better. Now we have to continue to ask ourselves, ‘Is there a better way?’ One of the things that we're able to do is look to our community for innovations. One of these is our Open Homes program. It began when our community came to us after Hurricane Sandy and asked, ‘How can we help?’. Now we've developed a whole disaster relief program, in which we can open our homes for free to those affected by such disasters. I think the community will continue to challenge us to do things better, to do things more simply, and to meet their needs, and that's certainly something that we're looking forward to doing.”


Tear down the boundaries.


“Flight travel is ripe for disruption,” McDonagh predicts. “The way that you catch a plane is very similar to the way you caught a plane 20 or 30 years ago. I think it’s going to change over time, and to the extent that Airbnb can play a part in that – well, we would welcome it.”


What does Future Fit mean to Airbnb?


“Having the ability to adapt to change. Being able to embrace the adventure, because you never know what might be happening tomorrow, and you've got to embrace it. And as we grow new categories on our platform, being good at what you do and becoming a specialist rather than a generalist”.


What does being Future Fit mean to Sam McDonagh?


“Sharing views and thoughts with those inside my business and making opportunities to discuss things with external leaders that are particularly good at thinking about what's around the next corner.”


Ready to make your business future fit?

Connect with us today.